Can Responsiveness Substitute Accountability?

Lessons from the Central and East European Laboratory of Populist Democracy. A paper presented at the conference ” Totalitarian Reverberations in East-Central Europe”, Faculty of European Studies, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, 26 October 2018.

Responsiveness characterizes a democratic process that „ induces the government to form and implement policies that the citizens want” (G. B. Powell). Populist parties advocate public policies that reflect the preferences of ordinary citizens, and their electoral success indicates that people believe their claims. Governing populist parties in Hungary, Poland and other Central and East European countries have systematically eroded institutions of democratic accountability, justifying these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. Although this erosion has been criticized as democratic backsliding and illiberal drift by scholars and international institutions, significant shares of voters continue to view it as steps towards a more responsive democracy. read more

Herausforderungen der Europäischen Union

Internationales Doktorandenkolloquium der Andrássy Universität Budapest, Babeș-Bolyai Universität Cluj-Napoca und der Universität Passau, 13.-15.9.2018, Budapest

Andrássy Universität Budapest

Die Rechtsstaatsprobleme in Ungarn und Polen sowie die Interventionsmöglichkeiten der EU waren ein zentrales Thema des internationalen Doktorandenkolloquiums am 13.-15.9.2018 in Budapest. Diese von den Europastudiengängen der Babeș-Bolyai, der Budapester Andrássy und Passauer Universität gemeinsam veranstaltete Tagung diente dazu, geplante, laufende und vor kurzem abgeschlossene Dissertationsprojekte vorzustellen und zu diskutieren. read more

Patterns of Democratic Backsliding

A paper for the ECPR General Conference, Hamburg, 25 August 2018, Panel 408: Same ingredients, different recipes: EU leverage and democratic backsliding in new member states and candidate countries

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have weakened the credibility of mainstream political parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe (ECSE) since prosperity and security no longer appear to be guaranteed consequences of European integration. The declining legitimacy of incumbents has provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all ECSE countries, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and form governments has varied significantly across countries. To explore these differences and assess the likelihood of populist electoral victories and subsequent illiberal policies in ECSE, the paper combines case studies of Hungary, Macedonia and Poland with a multivariate analysis of party systems, issue dimensions and cleavage configurations. It is argued that populist parties have attained political majorities through bipolar party competition, facilitated by congruent cleavages, particularly the congruence between sociocultural and EU-related cleavages. Based upon a comparison of the country cases, the paper discusses conditions that could constrain the illiberal erosion of democracy in ECSE.

Crisis Trajectories and Patterns of Resilience in East-Central and Southeast Europe

Presentation at the Conference “Disintegration and integration in East-Central Europe“, Faculty of European Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 26-27 October 2017

Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have questioned the promise of prosperity and security associated with European integration. Governments in East-Central and Southeast Europe struggled to bridge between the diverging policy expectations of voters on the one hand, international economic and political actors on the other. The weakened credibility of mainstream political parties provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all countries of the region, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and implement their preferred policy preferences has varied significantly across countries.

In my paper, I analyze the conditions and constellations that account for the resilience of countries with regard to the domestic political consequences of the European crises. I argue that populist challenger parties benefit from bipolar competition because they use polarizing frames of people versus elites to mobilize electoral support. The fragmentation and polarization of party systems reflect the nature of the electoral system and the configuration of cleavages in society. A majoritarian electoral system and congruent cleavages have supported the emergence of  bipolar party system in Hungary and Poland. In contrast, cross-cutting cleavages tend to generate and sustain multi-polar party systems. These party systems facilitate the entry of new parties, but have posed obstacles to new parties trying to broaden and consolidate their constituencies. To assess the intersection or congruence of cleavages, the paper studies the configuration of differences among parties on salient policy issues.

See also:

http://mbrusis.eu/democracies-adrift/

Herausforderungen der Trump-Administration für die EU

Podiumsdiskussion mit Ellen Bos und Daniel Göler, Andrássy Universität Budapest, 19.5.2017

Die Wahl des neuen amerikanischen Präsidenten bedeutet eine Zäsur für die Europäische Union, weil Donald Trump im Wahlkampf und vor seiner Amtseinführung die Fundamente der transatlantischen Kooperation in Frage gestellt hat. In seiner Kampagne gegen das Washingtoner Establishment erklärte Trump die NATO für obsolet und die EU für gescheitert, unterstützte EU-Gegner und begrüßte das britische Austrittsreferendum, lehnte das transatlantische Freihandelsabkommen TTIP ab und kündigte einen Ausstieg aus dem Pariser Klimaschutzabkkommen an.

Diese Aussagen reflektieren eine grundlegende Skepsis und Indifferenz gegenüber der westlichen Wertegemeinschaft und der darauf basierenden multilateralen, normgeleiteten internationalen Ordnung. Mit seinem Populismus stärkt der US-Präsident populistische Akteure und Anti-Establishment-Kräfte innerhalb der EU. Indem er die EU als “basically a vehicle for Germany” charakterisierte, bestätigte er europakritische Akteure in ihrer diskursiven Strategie, die EU als Camouflage deutscher Hegemonie zu entlarven.

Zugleich veranlasste die US-Politik jedoch die EU-Mitgliedstaaten zu einer engeren Kooperation in der Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik. Die EU-Mitgliedstaaten demonstrierten Einigkeit auch bei der Aufrechterhaltung der Wirtschaftssanktionen gegen Russland und beim Abschluss des Freihandelsabkommen mit Japan.

Die Umwälzungen in den transatlantischen Beziehungen und ihre Folgen für die EU waren Thema einer Podiumsdiskussion, die Ellen Bos, Daniel Göler und ich im Rahmen eines trinationalen Doktoranden-Workshop an der Andrássy Universität Budapest veranstalteten. Unsere Diskussion bildete den Auftakt für die Präsentation und Diskussion laufender Dissertations- und MA-Projekte von Studierenden unserer drei Universitäten (Budapest, Cluj-Napoca und Passau).

Central European University und Ungarn’s illiberale Drift

Interview mit Nina Niebergall, Deutsche Welle, 5.4.2017

Am 4.4.2017 beschloss das ungarische Parlament eine Änderung des Hochschulbildungsgesetzes, die die in Ungarn existierenden Hochschulen aus Nicht-EWR-Staaten dazu verpflichtet,  an ihren ausländischen Standorten einen eigenen Campus zu errichten und darauf beschränkt, in Europa akkreditierte Studiengänge anzubieten. Außerdem sollen diese Hochschulen nur auf der Grundlage eines bilateralen zwischenstaatlichen Vertrages in Ungarn tätig werden dürfen.

Diese Neuregelung betrifft de facto nur die Central European University (CEU), die in den USA als Hochschule akkreditiert ist, aber nur in Ungarn einen Campus unterhält. Nach Einschätzung der Universitätsleitung wäre die CEU damit zur Schließung ihres Lehrbetriebs gezwungen, da sie Milliarden Dollar in einen US-amerikanischen Parallelcampus investieren müsste und keine amerikanischen Studienabschlüsse mehr vergeben dürfte.

Die Gesetzesänderung steht im Kontext einer seit Jahren von der Orbán-Regierung verfolgten Politik, unabhängige zivilgesellschaftliche Institutionen und Akteure zu kontrollieren oder  auszuschalten. Frühere Maßnahmen richteten sich unter anderem gegen die führende Qualitätstageszeitung “Népszabadság”, das private TV-Programm RTL Klub oder die Ökotárs-Stiftung zur Unterstützung ungarischer Non-Profit-Organisationen.

Leider hat die EU bisher abgesehen von einigen Resolutionen des Europäischen Parlaments und Vertragsverletzungsverfahren gegen einzelne ungarische Gesetzesregelungen nichts unternommen, um gegen die systematische Aushöhlung der Demokratie in Ungarn vorzugehen.

A Reflective Power?

Foreign-Policy Positioning in Germany’s Electoral Campaign

Berlin TV Tower

Opening lecture at the Center for International Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 28 March 2017

Surrounded by global and European uncertainties, Germany is expecting federal legislative elections on 24 September 2017. European integration, the transatlantic alliance and the cooperation with Russia have been bedrocks of Germany’s foreign policy and its official international identity as a “reflective power” (Frank-Walter Steinmeier). All three fundaments are now subject to eroding forces or unprecedented political challenges. External turbulences interact with domestic tendencies of popular concern and distrust regarding the governing political elites and their European crisis management capacities.

In my talk, I discussed how Germany’s political parties and representatives address these challenges in the electoral campaign, what are the likely outcomes of the election and how they could affect Germany’s future role in Europe.

The term “reflective power” has been coined to express an awareness of Germany’s de-facto power as the largest member state and dominant economy in the European Union. The implied claim is that the use of power will be guided by “restraint, deliberation and [an orientation towards] peaceful negotiation” (Steinmeier). However, the term also fulfills additional discursive functions. It is placed in contrast to “Gestaltungsmacht” (the power to shape a political decision-making process) which has become a popular term describing the government’s new readiness to engage earlier, more decisively and more substantially in international conflict prevention. Notably, official documents like the 2016 white paper on German security policy and the 2012 concept on Germany’s role in globalization use more nuanced formulations and rather describe Germany as “a partner in shaping globalization” (“Gestaltungspartner”).

Both terms, reflective and shaping power, share the meaning of rejecting unilateralism and can be interpreted as reactions to what I call the “translation problem”. Whereas traditionally German governments have been able to translate Germany’s power into a stronger European Union, European integration has now become more politicized and populist Euroskeptic views are increasingly articulated in all EU member states. This “constraining dissensus” obstructs further power translations and has made Germany’s power more visible. Critics of European integration now regularly frame the EU as a format of German hegemony.

In my lecture, I analyzed how political parties adress the translation problem during the electoral campaign. Six approaches can be distinguished:

(1) Respecting and enforcing collectively agreed binding EU rules that allow to regulate and civilize the use of German power as well as the power of all other member states. This approach tends to neglect the new phenomenon of intentional non-compliance with EU rules for the purpose of domestic political mobilization.

(2) Germany increases its financial contribution to the EU in order to ensure the continued support of other EU member states for a stronger EU. The main risk of this strategy is that it is likely to further increase the dependency of beneficiary member states on Germany.

(3) A stronger European Parliament that constrains the power of EU member state governments. This strategy underestimates the resilience of national voter allegiances.

(4) A multi-speed EU, respecting the sovereignty of member states not interested in further integration. This policy risks weakening the collective EU institutions.

(5) A civilian EU that precludes military engagements and the associated nation state-centered perceptions of military power resources, national security and national interest. In its less radical version, this approach relies on maintaining the division of functions between EU and NATO – an assumption that has been challenged by the new US President.

(6) Replacing the EU by partnerships among sovereign states. This radical approach assumes that Germany’s power does not represent a problem and could be done away with the assumption of sovereign equality among European nation states, thereby risking a return to a fragile concert of powers.

Which of these policy approaches will be realized depends on the composition of the future governing coalition. The first five approaches can be considered as “reflective”. None of them provides a silver bullet for solving the problem of translating German into EU power within a less permissive European political environment. However, their associated risks differ significantly and a more reflective debate is needed to highlight these differences.

 

 

 

Democracies Adrift

How the European Crises Affect East-Central Europe, in: Problems of Post-Communism, 63 (5), September 2016

The present article proposes to study and compare the state of democracy in East-Central European countries. Such a comparative survey is deemed timely because there have been electoral landslides, corruption scandals involving political leaders and mass protests in several of these countries. Popular satisfaction with democracy has declined and democratic accountability institutions have been eroded in Hungary and Poland. These developments pose questions about where these democracies are heading and how their paths are related to the crisis of European integration.

I argue that the crises of economic and European integration together with the existing dealignment between voters and political parties have discredited the nexus between economic integration and prosperity and widened the incongruence between responsive and responsible government. The impact of the crises differs from country to country, depending on institutional constraints, socio-political cleavages and the interrelation of economic and democratic performance. Multi-dimensional policy spaces facilitated the growth of anti-establishment parties in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Higher performance expectations of citizens, the mixed electoral system and missing institutional safeguards of societal-political pluralism rendered Hungary’s democracy more vulnerable.

Partypositions_EU
(c) Martin Brusis

 

Download paper: Brusis_POPC_web

 

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Politics and Religion in Eastern Europe

An interview with Magda Crișan, Romanian TV program Digi24, 11 May 2016

Political elites in East European countries have often referred to religious beliefs or sought to form alliances with church leaders. One aim of their efforts has been to convince citizens and the public that they share common values and are committed to act ethically responsibly.

Putin_KyrillMore frequent references and appeals to shared religious beliefs in recent years reflect the growth of right-wing populism, uncertainties caused by the crisis of European integration and fears regarding the inflow of predominantly Muslim refugees. The extent to which religious references are made in political discourses also varies according to the strength of religious allegiances and the respective influence of churches in societies. Contemporary resonance structures are rooted in state identities and the influences of historical state-building coalitions with churches.

Read the full-length interview (Romanian language): INTERVIU_ReligionPolitics

Watch the video (German, Romanian subtitles):

 

Polens Verfassungskrise

Ein Interview mit Ivana Pribakovic, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF), Rendez-vous, 29.12.2015

In Polen verweigerte der Staatspräsident den vom alten Parlament neu gewählten Verfassungsrichtern die Vereidigung und ernannte stattdessen die von der neuen nationalkonservativen Parlamentsmehrheit gewählten Richter, obwohl das Verfassungsgericht diese Ernennungen für verfassungswidrig erklärt hatte. Im Dezember 2015 änderte die neue Parlamentsmehrheit das Verfassungsgerichtsgesetz, um die Richter zu zwingen, alle Entscheidungen mit einer Zweidrittelmehrheit zu treffen und die ihnen vorgelegten Fälle in der Reihenfolge des Eingangs zu bearbeiten. Die Gesetzesänderung ermöglicht der Parlamentsmehrheit, auf Antrag des Präsidenten und des Justizministers, einen Verfassungsrichter in besonderen Fällen von Fehlverhalten zu entlassen.

Außerdem stellte die Parlamentsmehrheit die Staatsanwaltschaft und die öffentlich-rechtlichen Radio- und Fernsehsender unter Kontrolle der Regierung. Was bedeutet dies für die Demokratie in Polen und was kann die Europäische Union tun?